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HANS HAACKE

Page 1 | 2 | Biography


Images shown from
HANS HAACKE, Bundesgartenschau
May 8th - 11th July 2008
Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg


One year after the joint retrospective of Hans Haacke at the Hamburg Deichtorhallen and the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the artist presents a new work titled Bundesgartenschau (Federal Horticulture Show). The work refers to the artist’s installation DER BEVÖLKERUNG (To the Population) of the year 2000 in the northern interior courtyard of the Reichstag building (seat of the German Parliament) in Berlin. From the center of a 7 x 21 m wooden trough white neon letters beam the words DER BEVÖLKERUNG to the sky. They are meant as an amendment to the dedication DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE (To the German People) of 1916 on the building’s façade. The Members of the Bundestag were invited to bring 100 pounds of soil from their electoral districts and to deposit them around the neon letters. This invitation is extended to newly elected Members as well. Naturally, the soil carries seeds. Additional seeds are imported by the wind and by birds. Spontaneous vegetation develops.
The artist’s proposal for the project led to a heated debate in the committees of the Bundestag and the German press. On the one hand, the criticism was directed at the title of the work, his dedication to the BEVÖLKERUNG (population) – a term not burdened by German history like that of the Volk (people). On the other hand, the use of soil was suspected of evoking associations with the national socialist ideology of Blood and Soil, even though the mixing of diverse soils and the artist’s dedication to all who happen to live within the country’ borders – irrespective of their ethnic and national origin -are incompatible with the national socialist idea of "purity." The controversy led to a debate of the Bundestag on April 5, 2000, at which the project was approved by the slim margin of 260 votes in favour and 258 against. By now, 275 Members of the Bundestag have participated by bringing soil from their district. Several brought soil from symbolically significant locations, as did Wolfgang Thierse (then the speaker of the Bundestag) from the Jewish cemetery in his Berlin district.
Since the inauguration of the project on September 12, 2000, the controversial "German soil" has been covered by dense vegetation, without any gardening. Small animals, snails, spiders and insects populate the site, as well.
During many visits, Hans Haacke took photographs of the plants and animals. These photographs, collected over seven years, are the material for his Bundesgartenschau. The work is constituted by a view from above of the entire installation, together with 224 close-up images of the plants and animals at various seasons of the year. It is complemented by a current list of all Members of the Bundestag who have participated in the project.
The work can be understood as an ironic commentary to the national debate about Haacke´s project, which has calmed down considerably by now. Also the title Bundesgartenschau can to be seen in this light. While the biennial Federal Horticulture Show is a competitive exhibition of gardeners and landscape architects, the ecosystem of DER BEVÖLKERUNG does without horticultural interventions. The card announcing the exhibition looks like an old-fashioned picture postcard with a serrated edge. It shows the German Romanticists’ Blaue Blume (blue flower), represented by a periwinkle (Vinca minor). It invites a host of associations from the history of ideas. On the upper floor of the gallery we will show works by Hans Haacke from the 1960s.


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